as written by V Chen, a volunteer at Blue Sky
Hui Jing tugged at my heart the moment I saw her. At five months, when most babies her age are eagerly soaking up new experiences, delighting in the exploration of what their hands can feel and grasp, what their eyes can follow and train on, what their ears can hear and distinguish, Hui Jing laid motionless in her crib. Yet, her transformation in the coming months could make any skeptic believe in the necessity and value of an operation such as Blue Sky's.
The neglect Hui Jing had already suffered since birth was unmistakable. Her head was misshapen, completely flat on the back skewing to one side, which also showed her ear pressing firmly in against her head; she had obviously been kept lying on her back, rarely moved, much less held. As I picked her up and held her, her neck had to be supported because she had not been given the opportunity, i.e., held upright, to develop the muscles necessary to hold up her head.
The more heartbreaking part for me, however, was her lifeless stares when she lay motionless in my arms. She looked up at the ceiling. She looked past the curtain. She looked out the window. But she saw nothing. I had seen looks like that before in movies, when actors portrayed someone in deep despair. This was the first time I have seen the look on someone in real life. And it was on a five-month old baby, the look of deep despair. I could not imagine the helplessness she must have felt when all her cries went un-responded, all her needs went un-fulfilled. No mommy, no daddy, no one, came to her aid, gave her a cuddle. To me, she looked as if she had given up on this world. Wouldn't anyone, if we were virtually deserted, left with no coping mechanism, for five months?
"You will see the changes in her after staying at Blue Sky," Leslie said to me as I distressed over Hui Jing's conditions. She had volunteered at Blue Sky longer and had seen transformations of other children. I didn't doubt her, as the children I had met at Blue Sky all looked happy and healthy but whose pictures upon arrival told very different stories. Still, I hadn't expected that change would begin so quickly.
A week later, upon my next visit, I was overjoyed to find that, while she continued staring as if she had x-ray vision, her eyes no longer looked like they belonged to a lost soul. There was the tiniest hint of life starting to flicker in them. Then the following week, she could be held upright needing only slightest support at her neck.
Few more weeks past, her head was still skewed, but less pronounced than before. Her gaze now no longer looked empty and she no longer felt like a rag doll in my arms. Beyond that, however, I couldn't tell if she was beginning to take in and process information. With some other children, I could "see" them think. Not Hui Jing; her face gave no clue as to what was going on in her little head, just the same quiet, constant stares. I thought about the scientific studies that talked about formation of neural transmitters in the early months of life and began to worry about the irreparable damages already caused by the lack of stimulation. Hoping to mitigate that, I tried to do something to stimulate her on each visit. I was thrilled when I saw and heard her laugh the first time as I tickled her, even if it might only have been a result of reflex. I tickled her more, hoping this form of sensory stimulation could aid in her development in some way.
On one visit, I found her sitting in the high chair waiting to be fed water. I asked the attending ayi whether I could help to feed her, and she agreed. As I finished and was turning around to put down the spoon and the bowl, she thought I was leaving and began crying, holding out her hands. This is normally a non-event for kids her age, but a big deal for me when it came to Hui Jing. She has started her life with so much stacked against her, what is normal development for other children is an accomplishment for her every single time. I look for even the slightest sign every time I go that she has surmounted another hurdle.
She hasn't disappointed me. Even though she has been diagnosed as both deft and possibly autistic, I feel in my heart that she's resilient enough to prevail, if she continues to receive the kind of love and care she has received at Blue Sky. Despite her deft diagnosis, I found her unusually interested in xylophone, playing with longer attention span than other children. And even though she displays one of the classic syndromes of autism, lack of eye contact with people, I have seen a change even in that. Over the past months, she went from making no eye contact at all, to a fleeting glance, to actually looking at me for the briefest moment, to holding my gaze for a few seconds. I can't help but wonder if she's truly autistic? Could she just be reclusive because she had spun a thick, hard cocoon to protect herself in those five months of abandonment and would she not eventually emerge from her cocoon given enough time and encouragement? Wouldn't we expect her development to be slower if she started the race five months behind others but could she not eventually catch up if given adequate and continuous stimulation?
There is no miracle story here. Blue Sky has given Hui Jing a chance to participate in life, but I worry about the day she may have to leave Blue Sky due to a variety of possible reasons. My greatest wish for her is that an especially caring family would see her as their special child and decide to include her in their lives. Realistically, however, she doesn't stand the same chance for adoption as other children. She is a special needs child in more ways than most Blue Sky children. Her development will be an uphill battle for the foreseeable future. Yet, I see her persevering. So I share a little of my experience with her here, hoping that it will touch a chord with someone out there, who will be willing to continue what Blue Sky has started, giving her every chance there is, supporting her perseverance at living her life.